Old (2021) Gets Old Quickly
First Non-Festival Release: July 21, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan, Pierre-Oscar Lévy, Frederick Peeters
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A fractured family is on vacation in a tropical paradise when they are approached by the manager of their hotel who tells them about an exclusive private beach they are invited to enjoy. They are shuttled along with another family to the undisclosed location and must hike through forest and caves carrying loads of food before reaching their personal utopia. Once there, they find themselves trapped by an unknown force and unable to leave. Furthermore, the longer they stay on the beach, the quicker they begin to age.
Old fumbles the ball on an intriguing premise by creating a ridiculous mystery wrapped up in trite commentary on aging.
I was on the fence about Old until it reached its inevitable conclusion– M. Night Shyamalan style. As many are aware, Shyamalan’s signature move is to throw in a jaw-dropping twist that changes how an audience views a film and pushes them to re-watch it to spot the clues. Old may have his worst twist ever. Without any foreshadowing or explanation on how this works, Shyamalan asks his audience to accept something with rules that bend and break depending on convenience. By the time he finishes telling his story, everything is tied together in a neat little bow that reads as unrealistic and unearned.
The writing isn’t strong enough to hold up the unique concept of Old. The dialogue is horrendous. Humans don’t talk like this. Even humans who are written as characters in a story don’t talk like this. Everything feels so unnatural and awkward for no reason. The entire script is clunky and expository. There is no trust in the audience to figure things out without Shyamalan spoon feeding it to us. Characters are paper thin and only given blips of information. The closest we get to knowing about most of them is their occupation, medical history, and maybe a quirk or two. Not only that, but the actors fare even worse at bringing them to life. Overacting is abundant throughout the cast, and no one is spared by the time Old concludes.
Too much of this film is unintentionally hilarious. Now, I understand that there is a very thin line between horror and comedy which is why that mashup works so well. Unfortunately for Old, this line gets crossed rather quickly due to the film taking itself too seriously. You cannot ask the audience to stay with you on whatever message you are trying to get across when moments earlier you introduce a character with the name ‘Mid-Sized Sedan’.
As a whole, Old feels like a missed opportunity. There could have been some cool commentary on the effects of aging and how as a society we look in horror to what could be seen as something beautiful or natural. Something that as tragic as it can be, is still something worth embracing. Or something about holding onto the limited time we have left, how everything is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Even if only some of the characters came to terms in this manner, it would have been an adequate balance. Instead, we are treated to a film that shows aging only as something inflicted upon our characters and something that is ugly, disease ridden, and lonely. I suppose that is true to an extent but feels muddled due to the chaos of the concept and all the explanations the characters must give.
Not all is bad though. There are a few really sweet and memorable scenes here and there, mostly concerning the main family, particularly of Maddox and Trent discussing how unfair it is that they are missing out on their lives and Guy turning to Prisca and saying that he doesn’t remember what they were fighting for, but it doesn’t matter. These two moments are touching and give way to what this movie could have been more of: a meditation on life and loss, along with the ugliness of it all. Aside from that, there are some nice shots of the nature, filmed rather sleekly. The camerawork captures the choreography of some intense scenes, including cave exploration and mountain climbing, that ups the suspense nicely. It’s a shame that all the ingredients of a cool concept are wasted on what comes to be a solidly below average movie.
Truthfully, this movie made me physically angry after leaving the theater. It’s well-crafted from a technical point of view and Shyamalan is a competent director, but the writing, and particularly the dialogue, is truly awful. I hope for future projects he lets someone else take the lead because this was unbearable once it hit the last 20 minutes. I would be more generous here if it didn’t read like a less revelatory version of mother! minus the A-list cast and the much more interesting dynamics. Avoid aging yourself any further with the involuntary cringes Old will elicit in your facial muscles and skin and go see a better movie.
Overall Score? 4.5/10